Q: We recently added a puppy to our household, and our five-year-old Aussie is definitely not amused. He’s lived with another dog, albeit one who was older; when the older dog died, he became “big dog on campus,” and seems to like the position. Though he hasn’t hurt the puppy, he’ll pin her to the ground and won’t let her up, even when she squeals. How can we help our BDOC come to terms with his new packmate?
A: Introducing a new dog into a household with a resident dog can be problematic, and the resulting stress and tension can have serious consequences. Puppies have a lot of energy, and even highly social dogs may find them frustrating. However, I am concerned that the older dog does not appear to be responding appropriately to the puppy’s distress signals; the resulting conflict could cause both dogs to display more aggressive behavior in an effort to increase social distance. As you work with the older dog, it is important that all interactions between the two are supervised and that you intervene if things get out of hand.
Peaceful coexistence is the obvious goal and can be achieved in a number of ways, including monitoring the dogs’ interactions and reducing situational and environmental stress. Removing tension-inducing triggers, such as food, bones or toys, reduces their need to compete, and potential fights can be avoided by being vigilant about the location-guarding that commonly occurs in multidog households. Toys and chews should be given to the dogs only when they are separated, and they will also need to be fed separately if there is conflict at feeding time. Identifying triggers and minimizing stress for both dogs will help them develop a better relationship.
The adult dog needs to learn that the new puppy’s presence means good things for him. Stand in a room with your older dog and have a friend or family member walk in with the puppy. There should be no physical interaction between the dogs, but as the puppy is brought into the room, the adult dog should be praised and given high-value treats. The puppy should then be taken out of the room, at which point, treats are withdrawn. This exercise can be repeated until the older dog becomes more comfortable around the puppy. When you see relaxed, fluid body language and a willingness by the adult dog to engage in social contact with the puppy, you’ll know that the technique has been successful.
Walking the dogs together is another way to give them positive experiences in one another’s presence. The puppy will require less exercise than the older dog to begin with, but a small walk every day will help increase that bond. Also, start basic training with the pup while giving the adult dog a refresher course, so that when they are together, they know to focus on you and be guided by your cues.
Management is equally important to maintain calm; baby gates are a highly effective way to give the dogs their individual space. Occasionally, however, they can have the reverse effect and exacerbate tensions. In this case, the dogs should be put in separate rooms and only allowed to interact under active supervision. Other stress-relieving tools such as dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) can be used to stimulate a sense of calm when they are around each other.
As with humans, even the best of dog friends occasionally quarrel. What is essential, however, is that you do not subject either dog to any situation that could cause them to react negatively to one another. If tension continues to escalate, rehoming options may need to be explored, but this can be avoided if you are diligent in applying training and management procedures so that both dogs can live peacefully together in a stress-free environment.